Reviewed back in Issue 131 of Singletrack Magazine, the Riese & Müller Packster 80 has done more than just deliver groceries. It’s started a revolution…
Riese & Müller is a German brand that first entered the market in 1995 with an innovative fold-up full suspension bike, the Birdy. The Birdy was a bike designed for the needs of commuters and travelers, and since then the brand has continued to provide for various needs, including child transport, commuting, even dog-friendly carriers. So it comes as no surprise that the company has designed a cargo bike, the ultimate Bike With A Purpose.
The Packster 80 cargo bike made its way to Calderdale to solve the issue of our elderly and high-risk residents who need help getting food during lockdown. Living in a small community that prides itself on kindness and looking after your neighbours, and tends not to support chain supermarkets, the idea to deliver food from the market and independent businesses came to our resident eco-transport-warrior Beate Kubitz. Her passions of supporting local business, riding bikes and reducing CO2 emissions all conveniently fit into the Packster 80, so without hesitation she rented the bike and roped me in to help.
In Calderdale our hills are steep, we have a good variety of cobbles, packhorse and gravel roads and unfortunately a lot of flood-damaged roads that look like someone hid their lit stick of dynamite in a crack and forgot about it. The decision to deliver food on two wheels was made sensibly – it’s an electric-assist cargo bike.
This free delivery service may seem like a selfless good deed, but with social rides and gnar temporarily off the cards, it’s been a great way to get some exercise and human interaction, albeit from a distance with a lot of hand gestures, given that it’s hard to lip-read through a face mask. We’ve been blessed with some glorious weather in recent weeks, and that paired with the Singletrack office closing has meant my time on the cargo bike has felt very much like I’ve packed in my career and disappeared to southern France to live a stress-free life. I’ve tried to imagine how this would be if the weather was more typically British, but then why spoil a good thing with bad thoughts?
Riese & Müller offers a huge range of e-cargo bikes with varying lengths, weights, capacity and so on. The Packster 80 alone has four models within the range. The one we have here is the most affordable within the range, before you add the accessories you want. It comes in one size that is adjustable to fit just about anyone by tinkering with the saddle and bar height.
The frame is an aluminium actual-mullet hardtail with a 20in front wheel and 27.5in rear. Front travel is at 70mm on a Suntour XCM32, and to further soften the ride the wheels are specced for off-road fun. The front is a 30mm wide rim running a Schwalbe Big Ben Plus tyre, and rear is a 35mm wide running a Schwalbe Super Moto-X.
With a wheelbase of 2075mm there’s a lot of weight in the frame, and add to that the Bosch motor and 500Wh battery you’ve got a pretty hefty load. I’d be more specific, but I couldn’t find a weighbridge within range.
The Shimano Deore Shadow+ 10-speed shifting is heavy duty enough to support the load and the forces that come with a heavy bike filled with tinned jackfruit and bottles of oat milk on the steep climbs of Hebden Bridge.
The saddle is an XL Selle Bassano Volare atop a Cane Creek Thudbuster ST (which makes for a fantastic sentence to read), but it’s not a set-up you’re likely to want on any of your regular bikes. This saddle is so big it would be more accurate to call it a chair. It’s designed for comfort and I guess to be one-size-fits-all, but no saddle can suit everyone.
There are various add-ons for the Packster fleet. Boards are an additional £94 but you don’t need those if you’re taking the £233 box upgrade, as we have. This has a base dimension of 60 x 80cm and widens out at the top to help contain your load, be more aerodynamic, or to catch any loose fruit attempting to escape onto the cobbled streets.
The bars are flat with a 30° sweep, which makes for a very relaxed riding position. The stem is Riese & Müller, adjustable up to 60mm in height that is done with a simple quick-release clamp. The Ergon grips are ideal for keeping a tight hold without putting any strain on your hands or forearms – a grip you need when the fork axle is roughly a metre in front of your headset.
One of the really great features on the Packster 80 is the built-in head and tail lights. They turn on automatically with the motor, and the headlight turns with the front end of the bike. There isn’t any option to dim these lights, and the headlight can be quite dazzling to oncoming traffic, but you can rotate it to lower it. It’s really nice to not have to worry about being caught in the dark with lights that need charging.
It’s been a learning curve, riding this cargo bike. The first ride was a very sketchy combination of front wheel wobble, death gripping and only making right-hand turns. And there was not a chance in hell I’d take my hand off the bars to indicate those turns. But in time I’ve got to understand its quirks and I’m honestly excited to ride it.
Starting with the obvious – the steering is very different to that of a mountain bike. You’re turning a wheel that’s a long way ahead of your bars, and concealed by the front load box, so there’s an element of pre-planning, and a lot of consideration about your load and how sharp the turn is. Avoiding front wheel wobble comes with balancing your speed with your load, and not making any sharp turns with the bars.
On descents it’s almost as if you’re sailing – fluid, smooth, aware of the wind direction. If you make any harsh movements they are exaggerated by the bike and it can take longer to recover from them than it would on a mountain bike, because your body position and weight distribution don’t have much effect on a big heavy cargo bike – your job is just to keep it upright. Rough terrain is rideable and not terribly uncomfortable on this bike. It’s very capable and feels really sturdy even when being rattled down cobbles.
Ascents are where the Packster cargo bike really shines. You have the assistance of the motor and a good range of power modes from the Bosch motor: Eco, Tour, Sport and Turbo. Eco is enough to see you through anything less than about a 20% gradient, but above that (particularly with a full load) you generally need to knock it up to at least Tour. It’s really quite impressive the weight and force the gears are able to endure. I’ve had the motor sounding extremely reluctant on a very steep climb with a heavy cargo load, but it’s never become too much effort to pedal. My only concern on steeper climbs is the lack of stability I feel with the upright riding position.
The brakes are adequate… the mountain biker in me wants some lever adjustment, but it’s really not essential because it’s unlikely I’ll ever be going so fast that I need to grab a fistful at short notice.
There is a parking brake, or double-leg kickstand, which is easy enough to use providing you don’t have too heavy a load. I have struggled with the stand when I’ve found myself on uneven ground with a lot of heavy items. The kickstand only works if the bike is pointing uphill or is relatively flat, but if you’re pointed downhill it will just roll off the stand. My party trick is to ride the bike off the kickstand and appear to be in full control when doing so.
Over time I’ve learned that there is a right way to load the box if you want an easier journey. Heavy items low and at the back (so, most central on the overall bike) and unsurprisingly, try to keep the weight even either side to avoid tipping over.
This bike is so much fun. It makes me want to go and do a big shop just for the sake of it. I have transported my iMac and the entire contents of my Singletrack desk to my house, I’ve delivered veg boxes, heavy bottles of cleaning products, bread, more veg, and not broken a sweat in the process.
It takes three hours to charge and as far as I can tell, it’s very efficient with the power. Steep hills, heavy loads and lots of stop-starting are a daily occurrence and it rarely has less than two out of the five bars of battery left by the end of the day, meaning it’s a reliable and trustworthy vehicle. More so than some cars I’ve owned!
If you have a need for regularly transporting goods and can spare the time to do it on a bike, get a cargo bike. You don’t realise how useful they are until you have one at hand.
Riese & Müller Packster 80 Touring Specifications
- Frame // ‘Light grey’ (as per the spec on the website)
- Fork // Suntour XCM32, 20in, 70mm
- Hubs // Novatec Disc 32H, Shimano Deore Disc, 36H
- Rims // Alex MD30, 20in; Rodi Tryp35, 27,5in
- Tyres // Schwalbe Big Ben Plus 55-406 Reflex; Schwalbe Super Moto-X 62-584 Reflex
- Chainset // Riese & Müller badged, Bosche motor
- Rear Mech // Shimano Deore
- Shifters // Shimano Deore, 10-speed
- Cassette // Shimano Deore 10-speed, 11–42
- Brakes // Tektro Auriga Comp HD-500
- Stem // Adjustable height Satori, 60 mm, +/-17°
- Bars // Satori NoirettePlus, 31,8 mm, 660mm
- Grips // Ergon ergonomic
- Seatpost // Cane Creek Thudbuster ST
- Saddle // Selle Bassano Volare XL
- Size Tested // Universal
- Weight // Yes…